This article, written by Jennifer Radel, orginaly appeared in the October 16, 2014 edition of Macaroni Kids Androscoggin Newsletter.
It’s fall. The leaves are showing off their brilliant hues, the air is crisp, and tasty treats made with apples and pumpkins abound. While it’s one of my favorite seasons, it does have a downside. My youngest son suffers from allergies that tend to flare up this time of year and both my boys seem to trade colds with classmates as often as they do Pokémon cards.
On Sunday, it started. My eight-year-old, Cade (the one with the allergies), sniffled and sneezed throughout the day. Monday, he was running a low-grade fever. By Tuesday the coughing fits began and Wednesday, general lethargy crept in. Typical stuff for cold and allergy season. No big deal, right?
Right, unless you are like me. After reading, watching, and listening to the news reports about the enterovirus, I’m more than a little paranoid my child will get very sick. The virus may be linked to a mysterious neurological illness causing paralysis that hospitalized a small number of children in Colorado, Massachusetts, and Michigan (authorities are still investigating a connection). Last month, a four-year-old in New Jersey died in his sleep. His only symptom his parents say was pinkeye. Another child, a 21-month old girl from Michigan succumbed to the illness this week.
So how do you know when it’s the average cold, or something more? I sought the advice of Teresita Maguire, MD from St. Mary’s Pulmonary Medicine and Infectious Disease to learn something more about this. According to Dr. Maguire, enteroviruses are quite common and occur mainly during summer and fall. It has been in the news a lot lately because cases of the enterovirus D68 (EV-D68), which is one of more than 100 non-polio enteroviruses, have been significantly on the rise across the US this year.
“Most people who are infected,” explained Dr. Maguire, “do not have symptoms or they experience only mild cold-like symptoms such as fever, runny nose, sneezing, cough, and body aches. In general, infants, children, and teenagers, especially those with asthma, are more susceptible to severe symptoms because they haven’t developed immunity or protection yet from previous exposures to these viruses.”
Dr. Maguire suggests keeping a vigilant eye on your kids. If their fever spikes, have difficulty breathing (or are wheezing), or show signs of weakness, seek medical treatment immediately. “Consider EV-D68 as a possible cause of an unexplained acute severe respiratory illness even if a patient has no fever,” said Dr. Maguire. “This can cause a bad cold, but in children with asthma, it can exacerbate their asthma to the point where they may need medical attention.”
There are some things you can do to protect you and your family, and the community, from the spread of EV-D68 and other respiratory diseases. Just like with the common cold and flu, the CDC says:
• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (tell your kids to sing the “Happy Birthday” song while they wash to ensure they are washing long enough). Use a liquid hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
• Avoid touching your face (especially eyes, mouth, and nose) with unwashed hands
• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, such as hugging and hand shaking
• Cover your cough and sneeze with a tissue or shirt sleeve, not your hands
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces like toys and doorknobs, especially if someone is sick
• Stay at home when you are sick
Reach out to your primary care provider if you have any questions or concerns about your child’s health. As parents, that’s all we can do. While we’d like to keep our kids safely in a bubble, we’d miss out on all the fall fun of leaf peeping, apple picking, and pumpkin carving.
Jennifer Radel has been the Community Relations Manager at St. Mary’s Health System in Lewiston, Maine for nine years.
On a daily basis she gets to work with some of the best health care providers in the State of Maine, and routinely picks their brains for the best ways to keep her family and friends healthy.
Jennifer is a mom of two boys and wife who volunteers with several community groups. She is on the Board of Directors for Literacy Volunteers-Androscoggin.
Prior to coming to St. Mary’s Jennifer spent nearly 15 years working in television, mainly as a news producer in upstate New York and Portland, Maine. During that time she received the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence, among other awards for journalism.